Archive for the ‘just for fun’ category

Muse of the “Metropolitan:” A (Short) Conversation with Whit Stillman

August 28, 2009

last days of disco

It wasn’t hard to track down Whit Stillman. Though it was hard to get a word in.

Before the screening of Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, I hoped to find the director, introduce myself and ask for a couple minutes after the screening for a “brief” interview.

But finding the chronicler of the so-called “urban haute-bougeoise” (his term), proved fairly easy: all I had to do was look for the man in the impeccable suit.

“Mr. Stillman,” I asked. “If I could grab a moment of your time, I’m Nicholas, I’m  a reporter for the filmlinc blog–”

“Ah, great.” He told me graciously. “So nice to meet you, Nicholas. This is Tara, she’s in the film.”

A blond woman curtsied. I shook her hand too.

“Ah yes, very nice to meet you, but Mr. Stillman–”

“And this is Mark, the composer.” Mr. Stillman put his hand on the shoulder of a shy gentleman who gave a wave.

I tried to interrupt again.

“And this is…”

And so it went.

This social etiquette is not just a function of Mr. Stillman’s personality, but also eminently of his films. In his Academy Award-nominated film Metropolitan and in the later Last Days of Disco (recently released on Criterion), Mr. Stillman produces portraits of sheltered WASP-y New Yorkers in their mid-twenties growing up on the Upper East Side (Indeed, in Metropolitan, the banishment of one of the characters to Manhattan’s Upper West Side is a source of great shame in the film). These characters, sometimes characterized as “debutantes”, sometimes as “yuppies,” all show impeccable good manners even when savaging each other verbally, as they often do throughout the films. Mr. Stillman’s style is extremely distinct, his films are truly unmistakable, and his characters qualities have more often been compared to the protagonists of Jane Austen novels than other filmic protagonists. His style incorporates both humor and compassion for the hapless/helpless Manhattan socialites he portrays.

And as I waited to speak to him, introduced to his filming companions, I realized that this was more of his style: that he introduces the characters and then let’s them speak for themselves.

When I got to him after a long line of adoring fans had approached for DVD signing, I managed to sneak in a few questions.

“You were popular in there,” I told him, as I snuck him out to the Walter Reade balcony.

“I wish I were that way in Hollywood,” he said modestly, drink in hand.

“I’ve heard you compared to Woody Allen, in terms of your style and intimacy with your well-to-do characters,” I informed him. “But then again, sir, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Jew in any of your movies.”

“Guilty as charged,” he replied. “I love Woody Allen and he’s certainly an influence. But he’s like a savant and I’m like a dyslexic; he keeps up the pace constantly creating, a movie a year, while I seem to come out with them on occasion. But Allen often seems to break reality in his films and I try to stay there”

He continued: “I’ve been accused of naturalism,” he said, as if naturalism were a crime. “But, I’d like to think that people who are “naturalistic” are often on the wrong side of things. When I was making one of my films, we had to have a scene through a car windshield and my director of photography asked me if I wanted to fake the glare that might be in the windshield to make it seem more ‘natural’. I told him no, I didn’t care about that, I wanted to see the actor’s faces. I feel that the stronger part of reality is the emotional truth of how we connect to people, to characters. The expressions on the actor’s faces, that’s reality to me, much more important than a glare on a car windshield.”

“But what about fiction, sir?” I asked. “You got your start there, much like some of the characters in The Last Days of Disco. What’s the difference between a story told in fiction and one in film?”

“Well I got to meet Tom Wolfe,” He said. “And he told me what he thought the difference was. That in fiction you cant talk about someone’s shoes. You can talk about someone’s mannerisms, while if you did that in a film, there’s no room for it, if you lingered on a pair of shoes, people would think you were weird.”

At this point, I was interrupted by more of Mr. Stillman’s guests who came to greet him and say good night, as I realized that he is very much a part of the social community still that he writes about, shoots about, and gently mocks.

“Before you’re swept away,” I asked. “Any advice for the writers and filmmakers of today?”

“Don’t watch too many movies.” He said. “After all, there’s life out there to live.”

At which he was taken away back into the crowd.

-Nicholas Feitel

Photos from Young Friends of Film Presents: It Might Get Loud

August 3, 2009
FSLC2009_MightGetLoud022_godlis
Director Davis Guggenheim with Film Comment Senior Editor Chris Chang

Elisabeth Shue with director Davis Guggenheim
Elisabeth Shue with director Davis Guggenheim

All photos by Godlis

Our most recent Young Friends of Film event–It Might Get Loud–was a smash success, with a packed house, director Q&A and afterparty. Don’t miss out next time! Join YFF now and you’ll be on the A-list for a year’s worth of events designed especially for younger film-lovers.

Thanks again to our friends at KEXP for taking part in the event. New Yorkers, you don’t have to stop rocking–tune into 91.5 FM for great music, local events and much more from KEXP Radio New York.

Now on sale — KEEP MOVING: Michael Jackson’s Video Art

July 30, 2009

On Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 6pm, we welcome critic Armond White to the Film Society to discuss the cinematic innovations of Michael Jackson. Need to brush up on your Armond White beforehand? Be sure to check out contributing editor Nicholas Feitel’s interview.

KEEP MOVING: Michael Jackson’s Video Art

Check it out and get your tickets early!

A month of duels: DiCaprio vs. Danes

July 20, 2009

Shakespeare performance aficionados, this is the one to watch. In Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, in one corner you’ve got the riveting screen presence of Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Claire Danes’s superior command of Shakespearean language. DiCaprio captures your gaze, while Danes really makes you listen.

romeo1

In my mind, this contest is a draw, but this is one of those  duels of clashing performance styles that ranks up there with James Dean and Raymond Massey in East of Eden.

See it for yourself: Wed Jul 22: 1:30 & 6:15
Sat Jul 25: 3:45

The Asian American International Film Festival Returns in Fine Form

July 16, 2009

This year the AAIFF ’09 is leaner and more focused as a condition of our new economic reality. However, it is also an experiment on the viability of a community-minded event—spread by word of mouth and quality selections rather than by star filled premieres or flashy, usually forgettable, narrative bombs. The showcase will include 14 feature films and 50 short films during the weekend of July 23 – 26, 2009. Opening night of the festival starts with Ivy Ho’s reverse chronological narrative, Claustrophobia. Ho is a veteran Hong Kong screenwriter whose directorial debut trowels in the turmoil created by a clandestine work affair. Following is the much ballyhooed Sundance premierer, Paper Heart. Charlyne Yi, of Knocked Up notoriety, steers this faux documentary in a search for true love. Michael Cera also shows up as …himself?

Claustrophobia, Directed by Ivy Ho, 2008

The first full day of programming places displacement on center stage. One of the standouts is Hubad. Based on the play by the same name, Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes have aggressively adapted it for the screen. On first glance it is an all too familiar work of meta-fiction about the play rehearsals and the parodic explorations of sex from which the play draws its comedy. However, as the layers of pretense are peeled away, we are slowly exposed to the sexual repression supposedly endemic to Filipino society.

Hubad, Directed by Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes, 2008

The lead characters, Carmen and Delfino, inhabit their characters wholly and the line between fiction and reality never materializes. At moments, the film hazily drifts into documentary, as though the audience is witnessing real people slowly self-destruct. Once they start a poorly concealed affair, the actors brazenly jeopardize their perfectly curated existences. Ironically, the play becomes the only space of solace as their significant others begin to reject them. The third night is the presentation of the centerpiece film, Children of Invention, which has been handily racking up awards and praise on the indie festival circuit for most of this year. No small part of this is due to its timeliness. The impasse that separates an immigrant mother from her two young children is a classic pyramid scheme. The director, Tze Chun, expresses some disdain over these get rich schemes, but also recognizes them as a part of the defective American Dream.

Children of Invention, Directed by Tze Chun, 2008

I can’t say that watching this film was an enjoyable experience, but it was a poignant one. Following the two young children Raymond and Tina as they roam around Boston is as close to cinematic purity as one is likely to see this year. The two young leads are free of the common child actor tics like cloying sentimentality or broad over-acting. Drawn faces and slumped shoulders tell a story much more nuanced than dialogue could ever approximate. Chris Teague’s cinematography is deceptively simple. Moments like the realization of the “Sold” sign on the lawn of their old house or a slice of pepperoni pizza being eaten on the street resonate as seminal moments in the lives of these youngsters. The framing captures the intimacy of their cut-out existence, cut–out from society, from normality, from reality. They will never forget this time, and nor will we.

The final night of the festival is a celebration. The closing film this year is Fruit Fly. It is unlike anything else you will see in a theater I guarantee. Here are just a few reasons why: insanely catchy pop tunes that will swim in your head relentlessly for days after viewing; dazzling, funny special effects that re-imagine the San Francisco skyline as an electronic game board, Asian characters devoid of clichéd stereotypes, and an infectious sense of freedom which enlivens everything from the dialogue to the title sequence.

Fruit Fly, Directed by H.P. Mendoza, 2008

H.P. Mendoza has crafted a pitch perfect (literally) homage to post-college bravura. The lead, a Filipino-American named Bethesda (L.A. Renigen) is on a sojourn to finish her one-woman play about the search for her biological parents. En route she realizes that she is a fag hag, criminally horny, and a pretty vulnerable performer. Watch this film with a big group. It has that sort of energy that can only be dissipated by bantering back and forth and talking to the screen. You will leave just a little lighter on your feet.

– Wayne Lorenzo Titus

Tickets for the festival can be purchased here. And a longer version of this report is available on the Cinemism blog.

Sonia Sotomayor gets the Hollywood treatment (at least in theory)

July 15, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

From Funny or Die! an inventive cinematic take on Sonia Sotomayor’s rise to judicial prominence. I especially like the part where the sharks come it. Coming soon to a theater near you?

Huffpo on The Secret Policeman’s Ball

June 11, 2009

SPP2-Original-Toon

Some great coverage today on Huffington Post for our Secret Policeman’s Ball series, June 26th-July 1.

First, Gregory Weinkauf posts this:

“This June marks the 30th anniversary of the Secret Policeman’s Ball series – the pioneering benefit shows instigated by Monty Python’s John Cleese to aid the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights organization Amnesty International. The first show took place in London in June 1979, and it triggered a series of benefit events starring top comedians and rock musicians, that have been presented internationally over the past three decades.”

Then Amnesty International executive director Larry Cox offers this background:

“As executive director of Amnesty International USA, I feel proud of the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience we’ve helped free, of the bad laws we’ve helped change, of the exposure that we’ve brought to devastating and insidious human rights abuses. I also feel the weight of the work that’s ahead of us in a world that has changed radically in the last 30 years.

What has not changed is the power of rock n’ roll, humor and human rights to transform lives and make a new world.”

We’re looking forward to more of Huffington Post’s exciting coverage!

Get yer tickets right here